Tag Archives: margin

Spring brake

No, I didn’t spell it wrong. During this time of year, people need a brake. Kari Myers wrote an article entitled “Being good when you feel bad.” Here are some of her thoughts.

“Sickness, stress, and sleep deprivation are three things that can really do a number of a person’s disposition. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. Maybe you know it, too. When we feel bad, physically or emotionally, we tend not to handle things as well as we would on a good day. Bad days can tempt us to focus inward. If they persist we can fall into self-pity or become obsessed with improving our situation. We can be self-absorbed, self-serving, or just plain selfish. But it does not have to be so. Jesus showed us another way. At the moment of His betrayal to an angry mob who would take Him to a cruel death, He healed the servant of His enemy. On the worst of days, as He was unjustly arrested and threatened, He responded with compassion. In the midst of His own pain, He took notice of and tended to the pain of another. Jesus loved in good times and bad.”

We need a brake. We need to stop striving so much. We need to inventory our busy-ness. We need to honor Sabbath keeping, as Bryan Brock taught in the Gathering last week. We cannot run on empty without damage to us and others.

He had been neglecting his young daughter. He knew it, but what could he do? Work was crazy. Meeting one deadline after the next required immense investments of time and energy. His wife had reminded him often that he was missing a lot at home, with her and with their 3 year-old little girl. He promised he would come home early and spend time with her. He left work only to bring work home. But he could take a few minutes. “What would you like to do with your dad?” he asked her while glancing at his watch. “I wanna take a walk.” Simple enough. How long could that take? One quick turn around the block. Only it wasn’t one quick turn around the block. Every few steps, she stopped, bent over to examine a bug or a flower or a crack in the sidewalk and exclaim, “Lookit!” His exasperation was evident. Passing them by was an elderly neighbor. The old man whispered to the dad, “You’re missing it.” Trying to be polite, the father responded, “I’ve seen a bug. I’ve seen a flower.” The neighbor stopped and said, “That’s not what you’re missing.”


Apply the brake. Don’t miss life. “Lookit!”



Are we there yet?

Ah, summertime.

Child: When school is out and summer fun begins! Parent: When does school start again?

When humans are trapped in the compartment of some vehicle for a lengthy journey punctuated with such stirring conversation as:

  • “I need to go.” “I told you to go before you got in the car!” “I didn’t need to go then.”
  • “What’s going on back there?” “Don’t make me come back there!” “If you don’t think I’ll turn this car around, you got another think coming!”
  • “He’s touching me!” “Tell her it’s my turn now.” “Can’t we just get along?”
  • “You missed the turn.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “You always act like you know where you’re going.”
  • “Are we there yet?”
  • Add your own favorite conversation contribution ________________________________

We need summer if it means a break in the routine, new experiences, favorite destinations, time for relaxation and recreation, family togetherness, and a change of pace. It’s a good time to turn off the devices, go outside and play, read a good book, go somewhere you’ve never been or you always enjoy, do something that you’ve never done and stretch yourself.

It seems different these days. Summer seems to be shrinking. School around here opens the first week of August. Some say year-round school is inevitable. Economic stress means fewer choices and more careful planning. Families cannot afford to send their kids to this or that camp. Travel is just too expensive, complicated, or risky.

The truth is we have to build some margin in our lives. Releasing the pressure of busy, harried lives is a vital part of healthy living. We cannot keep the valves open all the way all the time. In our day, stress-related illness is on the rise among our children and youth as well as the adult population.

We have to be pro-active if we want our lives to calm and slow down. Take little steps like the dad who told the family that he would prepare a mix of everyone’s favorite music to play on their vacation trip. What they didn’t know is that he had prepared his own selection – absolute silence. When the kids complained, he simply said, “You got to listen to your music; now I get to listen to mine.”

Creating Room For God To Lead

Over the last several weeks, a number of church members have noticed how full our calendar has been getting. They’ve been saying, “We’ve got enough on our plate already! Be mindful of how much you’re asking of the membership.” We’ve heard your voices and you’re right!

In a blog post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that traditional structures of family support are often in short supply and said that we needed to find new ways to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of families and individuals who are “often over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over-extended.”

In lives that are already full, the church shouldn’t be the one to pile on. Activity should never be confused with progress, or programming with organizational health. In fact, more activities and programming often prohibit churches from focusing effectively on core principles and objectives. Over-programming can actually inhibit progress and be unhealthy for churches and communities.


If we want people to create margin in their schedules, we have to be willing to create margin in ours. And if we want to create spiritually supportive communities, we have to identify the best times and spaces for that kind of community to take root and then give those spaces priority on our calendars.

In a recent Atlantic article titled, “America’s Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted,” Rebecca Rosin quotes this advice from Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, about how to combat the overwhelmed, totally exhausted cultures we create for ourselves:

“Create your own community, a network of like-minded people. Humans are wired to conform—that’s why these cultural pressures, however silly they may seem, wield such power over us. So find a group that fits your values that would make you happier to conform to.”

I doubt Senge had a church community in mind when he offered his suggestion, but isn’t that what many of us are looking for in our churches–a community of like-minded people who share our values? Aren’t we looking for a community that will help us stand firm against cultural pressures and instead conform to Christian values that will give our lives more substance and happiness?

Clearing space on our calendars isn’t easy. But if we value mental health, overall wellness, and spiritual well-being, we have to do it. It means saying no to great new ideas and passing up valuable opportunities. It can even mean saying goodbye to programming and ministry projects that continue to be effective.

But it also means saying yes to greater focus and clarity. Clearing space on our calendars allows us to say yes to greater unity of purpose and energy.  And saying no provides the opportunity for our church and its members to model in our individual and collective lives the kind of balance and margin that our neighbors are craving.

It doesn’t hurt that that kind of balance is biblically mandated, either. Prophets warn about earthly activity that ultimately leaves us feeling empty (Haggai 1:5-9, Isaiah 55:1-2). Micah even identifies activity and industry that leaves us feeling unfulfilled as a curse or judgment from God (Micah 6:13-15). The psalmist offers us a God who leads us beside quiet waters and restores our souls (Psalm 23).  And Jesus offers himself as a place of rest for the overburdened and weary (Matthew 11:28).

Ultimately, our incessant drive toward ever higher levels of busyness belies an arrogance that refuses to believe that the church or our workplaces or our families will make it without us…and an inability to acknowledge that we need rest and restoration to be at our best for each of them. Even worse, in our habit of busyness, we can quickly begin to adopt the attitude that God needs our activity more than we need his.

Ultimately, finding margin and balance are all about leaving room for God’s activity, creating room for God to lead. When God leads, our souls are restored. I’d be happy to conform to and be a part of a community that values that.  As our pastor says, “I’d like to join a church like that.” I bet a lot of our neighbors would to.

So get some rest. Find some balance. See you Sunday.